As readers of this site know, the states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania both ended up with congressional district maps that did not come from the legislature. In the former case, the Republican-controlled legislature drew two different maps, saw them both shot down following lawsuits, and eventually the North Carolina Supreme Court imposed its own map drawn by a special master. In the latter case, the Republican-controlled legislature drew a map, the Democratic governor vetoed it, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court—wait for it—imposed its own map drawn by a special master. This made many Republicans cranky, and they asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in. Yesterday, SCOTUS declined.
The Republicans' argument here is based on a very narrow reading of the Elections Clause of the Constitution (Art. IV, Sec. 1):
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.
The notion is that "the Legislature" is the only entity mentioned in this clause, and so the legislature has sole authority over election-related questions, including the drawing of district boundaries. Never mind that this interpretation overlooks two centuries of precedent. Never mind, also, that this legal theory has been tested in court many times, and has been torpedoed many times.
Anyhow, because this was handled through the shadow docket, we don't have a full picture of how the justices really feel about this argument. But we have a partial picture, and it's not great. Three of the justices—the exact three you think, namely Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch—said they buy the "legislatures only" argument. Brett Kavanaugh also commented, but said his concern was making changes so close to an election, and that otherwise both sides' arguments have merit. Amy Coney Barrett, John Roberts, and the three liberals had no comment.
The general sense is that Kavanaugh is pretty friendly to the plaintiffs' argument and Roberts isn't, which could mean that Amy Coney Barrett will be the decider when this issue comes up again. And given how close a majority decision might be, you can bet that some member of the red team will make damn sure it does come up again after the 2022 midterms. (Z)
When you're the president and the Supreme Court rules, you win some and you lose some. Undoubtedly, Joe Biden was pretty happy to hear about the decision above, even if he did not comment publicly. A bit less pleasing to him is the decision last week to uphold the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
The crime Tsarnaev aided and abetted, which led to three deaths and hundreds of injuries, including 17 lost limbs, was horrific. As a result, he's become public enemy #1—a blend of Charles Manson, Osama bin Laden, and the Son of Sam. That's interesting, since the inmates of the same prison where Tsarnaev is housed (ADX Florence) include Oklahoma City bomber Terry L. Nichols, World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, al-Qaeda cofounder Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, serial killer Michael Swango, pedophile cult leader Dwight York, Olympic Park bomber Eric R. Rudolph, and the Unabomber. Somehow, those men don't manage to inspire the level of vitriol that Tsarnaev does.
The Biden administration, like the Obama administration before it, imposed a moratorium on federal executions. However, the pressure to impose the penalty on Tsarnaev will be immense, and moderate voters are those who tend to be most... supportive. The President and his staff have been somewhat mealy-mouthed about this particular case, but Biden could once again find himself torn between the wishes of progressives and of centrists. Since the federal death penalty made its return in 1976, no Democratic administration has executed a prisoner (there have been 16 executions under Republicans; most of those under Donald Trump). It's unlikely that will change under Biden, but if any prisoner is going to put it to the test, it's Tsarnaev. (Z)
Here is some news that will gladden the hearts of Democrats across the land (as well as independents and Republicans who are fans of the rule of law). Democratic consultant Melissa Moss, a former senior Clinton administration official, has now formed the 65 Project in an effort to pursue accountability for lawyers who may have behaved unethically as part of the scheme to keep Donald Trump in office past Jan. 20, 2021.
The name of the group comes from a dinner meeting Moss had with several key Democratic operatives; she gazed at the bottle of ketchup on the table, saw "65 varieties," and that was that. No wait, that's a different origin story. Actually, 65 is the number of lawsuits that Trump and his minions filed and lost in an effort to overturn the result of the 2020 election. Moss & Co. could have named the new group after the number of lawsuits that Trump & Co. won, but Zero Project is already taken. Oh, well.
The 65 Project will focus on three different kinds of attorneys: (1) the shysters in Trump's inner-circle, like Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis; (2) lawyers who signed up to be "alternate electors"; and (3) lawyers who were present at the Capitol on 1/6 (including up to 30 members of Congress). At the moment, the naughty list includes 111 attorneys across 26 states.
The battle plan for the 65 Project is multi-pronged; it will air ads in battleground states, will be in contact with lawyers' employers, and will lobby the ABA to take action, both against these 111 folks, but also to adopt formal language decreeing that "fraudulent and malicious lawsuits to overturn legitimate election results violate the ethical duties lawyers must abide by."
The ultimate goal is not so much to ruin these 111 attorneys' careers, though the organizers of the 65 Project wouldn't be saddened to see that happen. Instead, it is to put the fear of God—well, of the Bar, which is also three letters long but is more frightening—into lawyers who might be tempted to engage in shenanigans in 2022 or 2024. The 65 Project has a budget of $1.5 million right now, which is a relative drop in the bucket, although it's also about $13,000 for each person they're pursuing. Further, one imagines that the donations will be rolling in now that the organization has gone public. (Z)
This very curious story will probably also gladden the hearts of many Democrats. Mark Meadows, who was a fire-breathing tea partier in Congress, and then was Donald Trump's White House Chief of Staff, may well have committed voter fraud. In short, he apparently needed to re-register to vote in North Carolina in advance of the 2020 elections. And as his address he chose a rather remote mobile home in rural North Carolina. Meadows does not own the home, certainly does not/did not live there, and does not even appear to have spent a night there. That means he is almost certainly guilty of a federal crime.
It was The New Yorker that broke this story, under the headline "Why Did Mark Meadows Register to Vote at an Address Where He Did Not Reside?" However, reporter Charles Bethea wasn't really able to satisfactorily answer the question he posed, nor was anyone else. It would appear that Meadows wanted to be an official North Carolinian in case he decided to mount a Senate bid this year (he ultimately passed, of course). And he chose a residence where his wife once stayed, and where the neighbors are friends. Presumably, he also did not think anyone would look into it, which is kind of a rookie mistake. Still, he couldn't do better than a trailer to which he has no personal connection? George H.W. Bush used a hotel room in Houston for years and years, and surely North Carolina has at least one hotel, right?
Just about every outlet that reported on this story could not avoid pointing out that Republicans are determined to prove that voter fraud is a real thing, and that they're doing a pretty good job of it, just not in the way you would expect. Will Meadows face any consequences for his problematic registration? He might; North Carolina has sent people to prison for this sort of thing, and Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) can confirm that there are many vocal Tar Heel Democrats willing to compel the courts to look at bad behavior by politicians. In case you are curious, the attorney general of North Carolina is a Democrat, Josh Stein. Not that his partisan affiliation should matter, of course. That said, as compared to nearly all of the North Carolinians who have been convicted of this particular offense, Meadows does have one advantage, and it has to do with his propensity for sunburn, if you take our meaning. (Z)
Colin Dickey, writing for Politico, has spent the last several months doing... the Lord's work? Specifically, he read 10 new volumes from Bombardier Books. That's the right-wing press founded to handle works that are too much trouble for mainstream publishers to handle. Among the works Dickey reviewed were new books from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), activist Laura Loomer, Trumpy physician Scott Atlas, Trumpy physician Simone Gold, white supremacist Robert Spencer, and attorney Alan Dershowitz.
Dickey is a bit more literary in his critique, but what it boils down to is this: big, steaming piles of garbage. The production values are low; some books barely seem to have been edited or properly typeset. Often, the author borrows so heavily from their previous work that it verges on self-plagiarism. Equally often, the books go off on tangents that have nothing to do with the alleged subject of the book (for example, Dershowitz's Trumped Up: How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy has a lengthy diatribe about Barack Obama's Israel policy.
Most significantly, however, is that the books have nothing to say. Or, at least, nothing new to say. Nobody is going to confuse Gaetz with Goethe, or Loomer with Locke, but the books are just a rehash of the same old, same old for 200 pages. The only consistent theme is victimhood; the authors have all been treated unfairly, and conservatives in general have been treated unfairly.
This just adds to the overall picture of the modern Trumpublican movement, the same movement that has no use for political platforms or meaningful policy ideas. Either it's a group of folks who just have nothing useful to say or to contribute, or it's a group of folks who are all about the grift and want to hit up the rubes while the time is ripe. Maybe both. (Z)
Which of these things was more predictable: (1) that Donald Trump's new social media platform would struggle to gain traction, or (2) that Trump would go postal in response? Both were roughly as predictable as the sun coming up today, and indeed, both have come to pass.
Let's start with the truth about TRUTH: It's a clone of Twitter, and not a particularly well done clone. Team Trump changed a blue color scheme to a purple color scheme, renamed tweets and retweets as TRUTHS and reTRUTHS, did all of this with bargain-basement software, and without enough server capacity, and then they pretty much called it a day. The rollout went badly, as many people downloaded the TRUTH app, but few of them were able to sign up for an account that day (or any day in the week or so thereafter).
Now, the backlog has been cleared, and people can get their hot little hands on a TRUTH account. The problem is that nobody is using it. There are a few grifters, and a few True Believers, and a few Trump-loving members of Congress who post duplicates of their tweets, but that's a pretty meager user base, and a pretty thin amount of content.
Among the people who aren't actually using the platform: Trump himself. He has a sent a grand total of one message: "Get Ready! Your favorite President will see you soon!" We don't know what Abraham Lincoln has to do with this, or how he's going to post TRUTHs from beyond the grave, but in any event, the main (only?) selling point of this platform is Trump's involvement. If he can't be bothered, perhaps because he only has 140,000 followers (about 0.2% of his former Twitter total), then the whole project will wither on the vine.
And even if Trump starts doing what he can to drive traffic to the site, that's far from a guarantee of success. However, botched the original rollout, it's not going to be easy to get new users. Further, while TRUTH was supposed to be censorship-free, it isn't—it just engages in a different (and more pervasive) form of censorship than Twitter does. And perhaps most importantly, the type of folks who get on Twitter generally like to poke the elephant or the donkey, depending on their political persuasion. For some, it's the entire raison d'être for their accounts. But if there are no donkeys on a platform (or no elephants), there's nothing to poke.
Anyhow, Trump may not be the savviest businessman, but he does know a lot about what a failing business looks like, and this is it. Maybe he wanted a real platform from which to announce his thoughts. Maybe he just wanted to ride the grift-night train to Georgia. Whatever the plan was, it's not working out, and he is steamed. It's never his fault, of course, but Trump is lambasting anyone and everyone else who has anything to do with the site. Former congressman Devin Nunes might want to keep that folder of résumés in the top drawer of his desk for the next few months, just in case.
Presumably the former president does not concern himself with things like metrics, and if not, well, nobody involved with TRUTH is going to enlighten him. However, the numbers are really quite grim. The site is getting about 300,000 visits per day, which is about the same as Gettr, and about half as many as Gab, the other two major efforts to create a right-wing Twitter. But while users to the other two platforms tend to stay for about 10 minutes on average, the typical TRUTH user stays for... less then 90 seconds. Undoubtedly, lasting less than 90 seconds is the story of Trump's life, but it's also really, really poor for a social media platform. That's about enough time to check in, look around briefly, decide nothing is going on, and check out. At this point, one wonders if TRUTH will manage to do better than the month or so that Trump's blog lingered before he shut it down. (Z)
Vladimir Putin may not be a very effective wartime president—the jury is still out on that one. But he is a master of manipulating American public opinion; that's a skill he's been working on for half a century. And it looks like he might just have unveiled his latest "masterpiece": the arrest of basketball player Brittney Griner on charges of drug trafficking.
Griner is one of the WNBA's star players, but the WNBA doesn't pay its women players nearly as well as Russian basketball teams do. And so, like most WNBA stars, Griner spends the offseason playing for a Russian team (in her case, UMMC Ekaterinburg). According to Russian authorities, she was arrested with a vape pen and some hashish oil. That has allegedly caused the Russkies to open an investigation into "crimes" she may have committed; if she's convicted of trafficking that carries a 10-year sentence.
The Russians have been known to concoct "crimes" before (that link may be the first time we've ever linked to TMZ.com). And their arrest of Griner may just be a little too pat. She's an innocent civilian, of course. Further, she checks some very distinct "interest group" boxes; Griner is female, Black, and LGBTQ+.
Putin may just be looking to make life difficult for Joe Biden; there's already pressure on the President to so something to rescue Griner (whose current whereabouts are unknown). The Russian might also be looking to initiate some sort of trade, say three spies for one basketball-playing lesbian. Whatever it is, it's not good news for Biden. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already warned, extracting Griner won't be easy, and the granting of concessions will serve to encourage Putin (or other baddies) to "discover" crimes by other Americans who are within their reach. Regrettably, it could be a while for Griner. (Z)